Politics: July 2002 Archives

Letters in both the NYTimes and the Daily News this morning try to draw a distinction between the morality of the recent Israeli murders in Gaza and that associated with Palestinian bombers.

There is a world of difference between the civilian deaths that occur during the Israeli assassination of the Hamas military leader and the civilian deaths that occur when buses or pizza parlors or discos or restaurants are blown up.

In one case, even if the Israeli military knew that there would be civilian casualties, the target was a killer. In the other, the purposeful target was the child holding the ice cream cone or the teenager out for a night of dancing.

It is outrageous and absurd that the Palestinians have the audacity to condemn Israel for its attack on Salah Shehada in Gaza. While Israel, as a rule, does everything possible to try to avoid civilian casualties, the terrorists only strike at innocents.
The Israelis occupy every inch of Palestine, have one of the most powerful military establishments on the planet, routinely employing its tools, whether tanks or F-16 jets, and have the expressed or implied support of the only superpower left in the world--which pays for almost all of this terror.

Some Palestinians have replaced stones with their own bodies as the only weapons available to them. Now if we were to force Israel out of the occupied territories and equip Palestinians with the same kind of power and weaponry, not to mention allies, that we give to the Israelis, we might be able to fairly compare the morality of what they do with such parity.

A well-directed missile intended for Sharon might end up killing civilians, including babies, but apparently it would be the thought that counts.

And just why do you think that's a bad move at this time, Senator Lieberman?

The conservative Democratic believes his presidential running mate, Al Gore, shifted too far to the left [sic] during the 2000 campaign.

In recent weeks, Mr. Lieberman has repeatedly expressed concerns that Democratic efforts to seize on allegations of corporate abuse on Wall Street could undo efforts made by some members of the party — most of whom are affiliated with the Democratic Leadership Council [formed in the 1980s to elect Republican knock-offs] and refer to themselves as New Democrats — to move the Democratic Party to the center, and rebut its image as antibusiness.

In the interview last night, Mr. Lieberman said that he had felt the same way in 2000, when Mr. Gore presented his campaign as an appeal on behalf of "the people" against "special interests."

This is from a speech he gave yesterday, not last year! Hasn't anyone told him what's going on in the country these days, or is this courtesan simply too horribly compromised by his own illicit or shadowy corporate l'affair de coeuer? The party should be stepping up to its own "bully pulpit!" If not now, when? If not critical of corporate malfeasance, supportive?

At least for the fortunes of his party, but certainly for the good of the Republic, this man must be shunted aside pronto!

Orwell's 1984, written decades before the date, projected what the year 1984 would look like. At least we made it to 2002, even as the book has been stuck in my consciousness since Dubya was voted president by the Supremes. Can we delay the full authoritarian state a bit longer, or have we already lost the battle?

As President Bush wages his war against terrorism and moves to create a huge homeland security apparatus, he appears to be borrowing heavily, if not ripping off ideas outright, from George Orwell. The work in question is "1984," the prophetic novel about a government that controls the masses by spreading propaganda, cracking down on subversive thought and altering history to suit its needs. It was intended to be read as a warning about the evils of totalitarianism -- not a how-to manual.
I you don't expect to pick up the book again, at least take a look at this essay.

Is it American to give up liberty to be safe, or to give up safety to have liberty? Don't bother asking the gang in Washington.

The administration consistently reminds us that we must take these steps [eroding our fundamental freedoms] to protect our lives. Perhaps it needs to be reminded that when our founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence, they pledged "our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor" to protect the fundamental freedoms they held so dear and not the other way around.
Well, I wouldn't feel safe without liberty, and I think that should be the basis of any discussion of what is to be done, since safety without liberty would be an illusion at best, and safety can only be enhanced by a citizenry with liberty, especially if we are willing to share liberty with the rest of the world.

Let's see what else can we do to destroy the country while no one is looking? The Cheney administration hasn't gotten anything right yet. It seems to be (fortunately) doing pretty well at messing up even its own pet projects (especially the golden-egg-laying goose) while it destroys everything that has made us as a nation successful and admired. But now it wants to bring in the military to whip us all into shape at home.

They are considering it. They are re-thinking the military's role in policing domestic affairs. Because as we all know it is a time of forced paranoia and false terrorist warnings and of increasingly obvious co-opting of 9/11 for oil and powermongering and political gain on both sides of the aisle. And you know what that means. Exactly: The government does whatever the hell it wants, calls it anti-terrorism, and please repress your deep cringing.

Mark Morford's spectacular column is one of the most dramatic responses to this latest villainy from the Junta in Washington, but the drama of the proposal merits such a response, and he does it justice.

I for one don't think there is a chance, a chance that they will pick up the challenge, but here's the case outlined.

The big, unacknowledged picture is this: The people in power represent an economic clique whose interests are only superficially tied to the well-being of the country as a whole. In collusion with their delighted big-money supporters, President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and their Cabinet-level entourage spent years lining their pockets with sweetheart loans, option deals and golden parachutes from oil companies and other related industries. They built political careers thundering against regulation, fueled by a cozy camaraderie with Enron and like companies that grew fat on--surprise!--deregulation. In office, these men make energy policy in cahoots with their ultra-wealthy sponsors, a club of very special Americans whose membership list they still keep secret. They consistently fight to secure America's energy dependency on oil and related fuels. Toward that end, defying the understanding of virtually everyone else in the world, they have denied the existence of global warming, willfully distorting the scientific evidence. When its own government scientists sounded alarms, the Bush posse dismissed them as ''the bureaucracy" and kept galloping down the oily path toward even more catastrophic global climate changes associated with petroleum dependency.


Democrats have a golden opportunity now to pound the podium and make a case to the nation that the interests in power--the interests who won a minority of the ballots cast but a majority of the Supreme Court during the 2000 presidential election--cannot be relied on to solve problems that their entire careers were devoted to creating. These interests are in revolt against plain American value and virtue. Even the honest men and women among them cannot muster the resolve to reform--their thinking is too deeply molded by the lives they've led.


Now, the Democrats need to do more than win the votes for this or that new corporate regulation. They need to move beyond merely feeling smug about how the Republicans have sabotaged themselves. They need to confess their own sins--as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has done. But even more, they need to back the Republicans into their chosen corner. They need to connect with the healthy side of American skepticism. They need to be thunderous and clear on the essentials.

If the Democrats forfeit the opportunity now handed them to connect all the flaming dots, they are truly as flabby, corrupt and venal as Ralph Nader says.

It's painful to even have to describe the Dubya team's latest assault on a formerly free society, TIPS, enlisting citizens spying on citizens. I thought I had already read of the proposal's actual demise, and had thought it unnecessary to address it, yet it's apparently still out there festering.

The Bush administration's post-Sept. 11 anti-terrorism tactics — secret detentions of suspects, denial of the right to trial and now citizen spying — have in common a lack of faith in democratic institutions and a free society. If TIPS is ever put into effect, the first people who should be turned in as a threat to our way of life are the Justice Department officials who thought up this most un-American of programs[my italics].

Unfortunately I can't locate the documentation for this at the moment, but a recent poll of Berliners found that fully 61 percent believed our dear Shrub is a dangerously incompetent maniac. I don't know any people who might be better equipped to make such a judgment, and the scrappy Berliners would probably agree about their qualifications.

If such an estimate matches my own, and it does, what shall I do with it as an American resident in America?

I saw this related observation today on a discussion site, and it should disturb or provoke each of us:

I am a citizen of the United States. I see the PATRIOT act, I see TIPS, and I think to the folks I grew up knowing as a kid, the German Jewish couple who "saw the signs and got out while they could", and remember stories of many others like them who saw where their country was going and had the foresight to get out before it was "patently obvious there was a problem"... which brings us to the modern day...

But it's not just that I don't want to live under a government that is repressive, or worse. I don't want to have to live with people who have no problem with government moving in that direction (who will never go to the barricades, or even contact their people in Congress or, damn, at the very least, talk to each other about their apprehension), and that is what we are experiencing already.

How bad does it have to get before the alarm bells go off?

[I gratefully acknowledge my Partner, Barry, as the source of much of the above material.]

Sure might help to explain why we're willing to risk world conflagration by wiping another country off the map in an unprovoked and very aggressive act of war!

"Washington" is very concerned about diversifying sources for our present dependency on oil and satisfying the wasteful gluttony of our future oil appetites. Let's simply grab Iraq and its oil for ourselves before anyone else has a chance to make friends there, even our own friends, who also need oil of course.

Access to Iraq's vast oil supplies are a key, if unspoken, reason why the Bush administration has initiated plans to attack Baghdad. Of course, as yet, no senior official in Washington has publicly acknowledged this. To do so would be to eliminate whatever remaining credibility the Bush administration has in Europe and the Middle East. It could also provoke opposition in the United States among those who question the sacrifice of blood for oil.


But there can be no doubt that the White House -- made up, as it is, of ex-oil company officials -- is aware of the oil situation in Iraq and the problems this will pose to successful realization of the administration's long-term energy strategy. Only by occupying Iraq and choosing its new government can the United States be certain that these problems will be overcome.


But if sanctions are lifted, and the current regime (or one that it allows to be formed) remains in power, Iraq's vast untapped reserves will fall under the control of non-U.S. companies. Some of these companies will, no doubt, want to sell their output to the United States; others, however, may prefer to send their oil elsewhere, or to use these supplies for political advantage. In any case, the United States can have no assurance that they will be available to satisfy America's future energy requirement. Obviously, the only way to prevent this from happening is to engineer a "regime change" in Baghdad, and install a government that will cancel these agreements.


At this point, it is impossible for outsiders to know what, exactly, is driving the administration's campaign to oust Saddam Hussein. No doubt many factors are involved -- some strategic, some political, and some economic. But it is hard to believe that U.S. leaders would contemplate such an extreme act without very powerful motives -- and the pursuit of oil has long constituted the most commanding motive for U.S. military action in the Persian Gulf region.

But it's all our oil, ain't it?

A headline like this works on Lefty depression like a genuine palliative.


"I've got great confidence in the vice president. ... When I picked him, I knew he was a fine business leader and a fine experienced man."

And now dead meat.

"But (he or she) did it first!" goes the plaintive rationalization with which every parent is familiar. Don't expect anything better from the so-called oposition party in the campaign to return government to the voters, or the voters to government. Both Republicans and Democrats were bought out long ago.

But why do we only hear about the very latest, if banal, still no less egregious, evidence of the rape of democracy from a gossip column?

They've been calling for a crackdown on corporate abuses, but that didn't stop Democratic senators from flying corporate jets from Washington to Nantucket for a weekend schmoozefest with 250 campaign contributors.


The Democratic mouthpiece pointed out that the National Republican Senatorial Committee will have a similar event at the Greenbriar resort in West Virginia this weekend.

Last night the Senate unanimously passed a bill supposedly designed to overhaul corporate abuses that have rocked Wall Street. I guess they're afraid the pay-off money might dry up if the market totally tanks. Hadda do something.

So, it's up to the person posing as president to decide who is an American and who has a right to a lawyer, so long as he says he's protecting us!

[The judge] said the executive branch of the government is "best prepared" to exercise the military judgement regarding the capture of alleged combatants.

"According, any judicial inquiry into [the American citizen] Hamdi's status as an alleged enemy combatant in Afghanistan must reflect a recognition that government has no more profound responsibility than the protection of Americans, both military and civilian, against additional unprovoked attack."

Are we feeling safe yet, from our government and the world outside?

We are being misled, and all is not what it seems.

And it's becoming increasingly difficult to find anyone but the truest I-believe-everything-Ari-Fleischer-says jingoists who actually believes this "war" has become anything but a grand excuse, a marvelously leveragable plaything which the Bush cadre can point to as their very own personal holy shroud, some sort of sacrosanct shield to protect them from criticism and claims of blatant impropriety and selling the nation's soul for pennies on the barrel.

The more pleasant idea is that the war excuse is becoming thinner and thinner, the populace increasingly fatigued and wary of false terrorist warnings, fearmongering, lopsided Us-versus-Them posturing, the sucking dry of the budget in the name of accidentally bombing Afghan weddings.

Wary, in addition, of the idea that simply sending in troops and bombing caves and infuriating Middle Eastern countries even further will somehow solve the problem, stem the tide of terrorism, eradicate the numinous, germinating terrorist cells, make everyone look away as Bush Sr.'s sinister investment company the Carlyle Group rakes in millions from War on Terror defense contracts. Shhh.

Get out your (slash war) buttons now, before we bomb Iraq and the buttons, and those who would wear them, are banned forever.

Government in the U.S. today spends more per capita on health care than any nation on earth, including those with national health insurance.

Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, [an author of the Harvard Medical School study published in the journal Health Affairs] and an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard, noted: "We pay the world's highest health care taxes. But much of the money is squandered. The wealthy get tax breaks. And HMOs and drug companies pocket billions in profits at the taxpayers' expense. But politicians claim we can't afford universal coverage. Every other developed nation has national health insurance. We already pay for it, but we don't get it."
Start asking why.

Good news! Our trusty fascist government is no longer holding most of those arrested in racist sweeps after September 11! Nope. The bad new is that we threw them out of the country without hearings or trials, ensuring they will not be able to rejoin school, work, friends, families, even wives and children.

The Bill of Rights applies to every person in America, whether citizen or not, but it has been trashed once again by the junta in Washington. None of these South Asian and Arab residents and visitors have been charged with anything relating to terrorism, and only about half of the some 1200 arrested were detained for any irregularity, notably immigration violations like overstaying a visa. All but 74 of those had been secretly expelled as of several weeks ago, and except for a small handful, those remaining are still in custody, their identities essentially hidden to the world.

[Some] expulsions of the Sept. 11 detainees have been so abrupt that family members did not know for days after the fact.

In the case of Ali Yaghi, a Jordanian detainee who had applied for residency, his American wife and three children in Albany were never told that he was deported to Jordan on June 24, after spending nearly nine months in the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn on an immigration charge.

Mr. Yaghi has not been heard from since, raising fears in his family that Jordan's security services may have been so suspicious about his long detention that they arrested him upon arrival.

Even now, Washington refuses to disclose names or to open hearings on any of the past or continuing cases. Federal lawsuits brought by civil liberties groups working through the judicial system continue to be resisted with the full authority of the executive branch.

If visitors have no rights on American soil, we have no rights either.

[the impact of Bushie's speech on Wall Street today]

I really love the BBC site at the moment. The lead story is that speech, and even in the skeletal form of their headlines they've taken the opportunity to tell it like it really is.

"BUSH DEMANDS 'NEW ERA OF INTEGRITY' "The US president calls for longer jail terms for corporate fraudsters and demands higher ethical business standards.

"Analysis: Bush delivers too little too late
"Shares dive in US
"Scandals' shadow over politics
"In Depth: Corporate scandals
"News in Video: 'US economy is confidence-based'
"Talking Point: Has Bush convinced you?"

The Dow and NASDAQ each plunged about 2% today after the little talk.

Gore Vidal, described in an interview as also perhaps the nation's last republican [small "r"], has a chance to do what he does best, elegantly cut through the muck of ignorance and mendacity to describe what really is happening to our world.

Those who are even the least bit interested in this item should note that he is not known to have been wrong in the past.

I don't think we, the American people, deserved what happened. Nor do we deserve the sort of governments we have had over the last 40 years. Our governments have brought this upon us by their actions all over the world. I have a list in my new book that gives the reader some idea how busy we have been. Unfortunately, we only get disinformation from The New York Times and other official places. Americans have no idea of the extent of their government's mischief. The number of military strikes we have made unprovoked, against other countries, since 1947-48 is more than 250. These are major strikes everywhere from Panama to Iran. And it isn't even a complete list. It doesn't include places like Chile, as that was a CIA operation. I was only listing military attacks.


And people in the countries who are recipients of our bombs get angry.


[So it's not true that people like Osama bin Laden] just come out of the blue. You know, the average American thinks we just give away billions in foreign aid, when we are the lowest in foreign aid among developed countries. And most of what we give goes to Israel and a little bit to Egypt.

[excerpts from a letter to the editor in today's NYTimes]

What to do when it appears that the president engaged in financial misdealings before taking office?

We know what steps the Republicans think appropriate: hire a political appointee from the opposing party to investigate, give him essentially unlimited, unaccountable power, keep the investigation dragging on indefinitely, and expand it to include unrelated matters.

We just don't hear enough from independent and courageous people any more, and in fact we cannot ever hear enough from them. So, does everyone else really believe it's unamerican to do anything but cheer the chief?

"We have a president who owes his election more to a dynasty than to democracy," said [veteran civil rights leader, Julian] Bond, chairman of the NAACP board, in an ardent opening address at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

"When he spoke to our convention in Baltimore in 2000, he promised to enforce the civil rights laws," Bond said. "We know he was in the oil business. We just didn't know it was snake oil.

"We have an attorney general who is a cross between J. Edgar Hoover and Jerry Falwell. And too often, one political party is shameless and the other is spineless."

Referring to massive disenfranchisement during the 2000 election, especially of blacks, Bond said, "There is a right-wing conspiracy, and it is operating out of the United States Department of Justice."

And this from the Chairman of a very respectable, too often painfully conservative, century-old institution! Can we then hope it's not too late?

Can the writer to the Daily News really be wondering how the 9th Circuit Court feels about religious oaths?

Bronx: The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California says reciting the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional because of the words "under God." I wonder how the court feels about a witness placing his or her hand on the Bible and swearing to "tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God."

Somehow I prefer the sense of the letter which follows that one.

Toms River, N.J.: How different are we from the Taliban if we let government force religion on our children?

This headline and story beggars comment.

[At the Bushie vacation palace's local Kennebunkport church] Chaplain M.L. Agnew, in honor of his powerful guests, diverted the congregation from the usual service briefly to lead them in the Pledge of Allegiance, a pledge of loyalty to the U.S. flag and "one nation under God."


As the Bush family prepared to take the Episcopal communion, Agnew called Bush the "spiritual and political leader of the greatest nation in the world."

Maybe it's just wishful thinking, but there may be signs that sanity, and the courage of sanity, is returning to the people. Keep those cards and letters (and the questions, and the demonstrations) going, and don't let the highjackers in Washington rest.

The fresh questioning of the war on terrorism is also a phenomenon of the Democratic left. But if I have learned anything in four decades of covering politics, it is to pay heed when you hear the same questions -- in almost the same phrases -- popping up in different parts of the country.


I am not sure where this skepticism comes from or which media voices are spreading it. But the consequences can be guessed. Until now, most of the major Democratic leaders have said, "We stand shoulder to shoulder with the president in the war on terrorism." Some, such as House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, have virtually given Bush a green light to go after Saddam Hussein.

But if Democrats begin hearing doubts about the costs of the war -- and its consequences for civil liberties -- from some of their most vocal constituents, that support may not last long.

Somebody needs a jump start, and right away! The Arab world is a mess, and we're part of the problem.

[The UN has just published a report "written by a group of distinguished Arab intellectuals"] analyzing the three main reasons the Arab world is falling off the globe. (The G.D.P. of Spain is greater than that of all 22 Arab states combined.) In brief, it's due to a shortage of freedom to speak, innovate and affect political life, a shortage of women's rights and a shortage of quality education. If you want to understand the milieu that produced bin Ladenism, and will reproduce it if nothing changes, read this report.


There is a message in this bottle for America: For too many years we've treated the Arab world as just a big dumb gas station, and as long as the top leader kept the oil flowing, or was nice to Israel, we didn't really care what was happening to the women and children out back — where bad governance, rising unemployment and a stifled intellectual life were killing the Arab future.

Sometimes a man of the cloth can warm an atheist's heart. Of course, I'd like to think it's already warm, without benefit of clergy, so take that introductory sentiment as just a figure of speech.

On July 8, both priests will join 35 other defendants in [a Georgia] court to be tried for "crossing the line" during a mass demonstration at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation -- better known by its former name, the School of the Americas -- at Fort Benning, Ga.

Despite its dramatic sound, crossing the line means peacefully trespassing onto the Army base. Each November, hundreds of protesters -- who contend that the school trains foreign soldiers in such black arts as assassination and making biological and chemical weapons -- trespass and get themselves arrested.


Along with calling the court "a pimp for the Pentagon," [one of the two priests] will ask [the judge] to sentence him to study at the Fort Benning school so he can "tell the world: indeed the new institute has amended its ways and teaches only nonviolence and democracy to its students."

More than a few sane words have been delivered by an Israeli who bears really extraordinary credentials for these times, and these places.

How can we as Americans deal with our shame as a people saddled with this government? How much and for how long will we and the entire world pay for our stupidity, our greed and our egotism? What was our excuse?

Everynody knew, of course, that it was a stupid speech, perhaps the most silly ever uttered by an American president. But who will confront the leader of the world's sole superpower?


[Bush's Copenhagen speech] says that the Palestinians must chose their leader in a free, democratic election, but that they are forbidden to elect a leader not approved by Sharon and Bush.

They must establish a democratic, liberal, pluralistic and multi-party system, including separation of powers, independent courts and transparent finances. For that purpose they are commanded to accept the assistance of America's allies in the Middle East: democratic Saudi Arabia, pluralistic Egypt and liberal Jordan. Financial transparency like in Riyadh, separation of powers like in Cairo, independent courts like in Amman.

The establishment of this ideal system is a precondition to any peace negotiations. In Europe, such a system was achieved after a struggle of hundreds of years. In the Arab world, it does not exist anywhere. Arafat is the only Arab chief of state who was chosen in free elections, under close international supervision, personally overseen by ex-President Jimmy Carter.

A brief check with a reporter on the scene in Gaza today.

Gaza is completely fenced in. It's like the world's largest prison.
Gaza is a land mass of 360 square kilometers. Of that, 58% is in hands of Palestinians; 42% is in hands of the Israeli military and settlements. In Palestinian-controlled areas there are 1.25 million people. In the Israeli controlled area, only 4000. That works out to be something like 6000 Palestinians per square kilometer in their areas, and 27 Israelis per square kilometer in their areas. Each settler has 226 times as much space as each Palestinian (leaving aside land quality).
And a voice apparently crying in another wilderness, the land of gay journalism.
Good lord, you would think from the torrent of vitriol and hysteria from [letters to the editor about Gay City News articles on the Middle East]that the Palestinians were occupying Jewish land in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank; that three times as many Jews as Palestinians had died since the start of the second intifada; that in 1948, 700,000 Jews were made homeless and never allowed to return to the cities they were born in; that starting in the 1880s, a couple of thousand Palestinians told the hundreds of thousands of Jews living west of the River Jordan that one day, god willing, all the land would be theirs.

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